Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Gushing time

I watched the first morning flat session of the 2014 George Morris Horseyship Thingy and was truly inspired for my ride this afternoon.  Seriously, go and watch both the first and second flat sessions for day one and feel the dressage love.  Both sessions are well worth the time.  I love the fact that this program is being recorded and put on USEF Network for the whole horse world to view and learn from as well.

Check out the Chronicle summary of day one flatwork key points.

Taking a note from George's book, today I wanted to focus on impulsion with Soon.  He can be a little dead to the leg, and I decided tonight was the night to focus on that and really getting him to be "through."  Another key point for tonight's ride was turning off the outside rein (inside leg to outside hand).  I've not used the outside rein as effectively as I could, hence some recent discussion on that.  I wanted to explore that and make sure I was making full use of that outside rein to assist with turns and help me control Soon's shoulders.  I also set up trot poles in the center of the ring, which would require a square-ish turn off the rail and a straight line across the center of the poles, to another well balanced turn.  This is building off the work I've been doing the last couple of days by focusing on moving those shoulders around.

I'll shorten the gushing to a paragraph or so:  SOON FELT AMAZING!  We did our walking warm up with leg yields, squared turns, and turns on the forehand.  We went right to a forward, stretchy trot and his back was immediately up and engaged.  After awhile I shortened the reins and asked him for a shorter outline and to bring his poll up.  He did, the rhythm and tempo stayed the same and he felt very elastic and light in my hand, while still having good impulsion from behind and lifting his back.  His trot was was SO good, in fact, that I almost considered quitting right there.  It was a quality of trot that I don't know if I've really achieved with him yet.  All because I focused on impulsion and him being responsive to my leg, and riding off the outside rein.  I don't consider myself a big "D" dressage rider, but damn I felt like one with the gait that we had.  Nice nice nice.

We did our trot poles tonight like I had planned (went through the trouble of dragging them around, figured we'd give it a shot and shoot for the same trot).  We got it.  The short turn off the wall, straight line over the poles worked nicely and he felt very balanced around the turns tonight (no more Barbie car Tokyo drift!) thanks to that outside rein.  He stretched nicely over the poles as well.  His canter work was lovely tonight as well, in both directions.  Nice push from behind, but well balanced and in control.  Good connection with the outside rein, soft inside rein (he was bent nicely around my inside leg), and just another "wow!" moment for me at the canter.  So round, so soft, with energy, and balance.  All in all it was a mind-blowing flat school.  All because I was inspired by some videos the last few days of Anne Kursinski and focused on some basic principles as demonstrated by George Morris.  Having a passion for training and wanting to learn and apply things is what makes an average flat school so great.  I love what I do.  I love that my horse tries so unbelievably hard every day. 

There are critics of George's riding these days due to his age, but the video of him on the bay horse in the first morning session proves why he's still got it.  It was nice to see the change in the horse's attitude, forward impulsion, and softness.  And if that wasn't enough, you can tell from this video of George riding a unicorn that he still gets the job done:



The unicorn clearly has a lot of impulsion and push from behind, its poll is the highest point (except for the horn of course), and George's hands don't move.  And if that still isn't enough, the unicorn is smiling.  George's horsemanship is so good that it makes unicorns f*cking smile.  Amazing.

 Unicorn. 

Monday, December 30, 2013

Jump School Fun!

Today's jump school was (go ahead, guess what I'm about to say...) amazing!  It was just a couple of small verticles and an oxer, we worked on rhythm, distances, and the quality of his jump.  Soon's still a little wiggly to the jumps so keeping him straight is something I have to be very conscious about, but he's so bloody steady it blows my mind.  I love his metronome canter - he's soft on the approach and soft going away.  Heaven.  Whether he's long or short to the fence, he doesn't panic and rush, just takes the jump from the required distance and keeps on trucking.  I was a little long on one jump, but he took a joke and jumped nicely out of it.  The rest of our distances were quieter, which is nice at this stage because he learns to jump up and around, instead of leaving long and jumping flat.  He is very adjustable off the seat and leg, so getting something quiet is easy as all I have to do is sit up and support him with my leg.  Just like on the flat, he doesn't require much rein when jumping.

I'll need to work more on controlling his shoulders, as we fell out through a couple of turns and had to circle because the approach was all kinds of crooked.  It's kind of like a Navy pilot calling the approach to land his jet on an aircraft carrier - you get to a point where you know the turn and the approach aren't good, and better to waive off and try again than try to jump your way out of it, especially with a green horse.  No need to get them confused, flustered, and turned inside out because you want them to jump off a crooked approach.  Those were the only not so hot moments of the school (and it wasn't that bad), and really falls on me because I need to plan that turn and balance better.  I'll get there.

The reality is, not having jumped and trained consistently in probably five years has really taken its toll on my feel.  My brain and body know what I need to do, they just don't communicate well right now.  My brain is late identifying it, and my body is late in executing, which results in a right mess as you can imagine.  We had a long approach to a single oxer, and after I round the turn and was on the straight approach I thought to myself, "Wow, I really should have carried more pace through that turn," which of course is about 60 feet too late for me to be making that observation.  By then, I'm 30 feet from the fence with an entirely different canter from what I had in the corner, and trying to dig myself out of a hole.  Thankfully, when I sit up and ask Soonie to wait for the quiet distance, he says "Yes Ma'am," and does it.  Good boy.

"You fed me yucky so now
you feed me cookies"
It's nice to have educated eyes on the ground at this point as it's good to have someone to bounce ideas off of and identify things like a lack of pace.  After that validation, I did it again with more impulsion in the canter and boom, perfect distances every time on that horse.  Easy, soft, and smooth.  Soon is nothing if not uncomplicated to the jumps.  I was extremely pleased with how he felt today, how he rode, and the fact I was smiling almost the entire ride (and when I wasn't smiling, it's because I was busy trying to think).  That enjoyment is what is important.  This little horse tries so freaking hard, and he is such a joy to work with.  He seems to really love this jumping stuff and is super honest about everything.  The feeling I get riding such a nice jumper really makes me feel great.  Love him.


And afterward as a reward...Soonie got wormed.  YAY!  He did not approve, in fact, he protested by the door afterward as if to say "Hey, that was icky and I think you should apologize."  So I tried apologizing with a peppermint, which Pretty Pretty Princess refused because he was pouting.  Wormer is icky, but he won't eat anything afterward unless it's a horse cookie, which I ran out of because I didn't know it was worming day.  He is a horse treat elitist.  So I got him a handful of grain (which he normally gobbles up), and he picked at it slowly like a kid poking around at their veggies.

I gave him dinner afterward, and all was well in the kingdom again and he got over it.  But not before I took a picture of him looking like crack addict Tyrone Biggums.




Discussion on Collection

Soonie and I are a long way away on the training scale from achieving collection, but here's a very thorough discussion about it and the right vs. wrong:

"True Collection" by Deb Bennett, Ph.D.

Ooo she has a talk!  Check out the footage from the George Morris Horsemastership Blah Blah Blah and scroll down to the "Day 4 - Dr. Deb Bennett PhD" video (2013 session). 

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Riding the Square

There's a phrase in dressage and anyone who uses dressage techniques regularly called "riding the square."  It refers to riding a 90-degree turn rather than riding in a circle or oval shape.  I introduced Soon to it today in order to help reinforce some of the turn on the haunch exercises I've been doing with him recently.  Squaring turns helps loosen the horse up, increase control over the horse's shoulders, balances the horse, and in the case of horses that are heavy in the front, can get them to lighten up their front end (that does not describe good old Soonie Boy though).


The idea is that you ride a straight line, then execute a quarter turn on the haunch and complete the 90-degree turn into the next straight line.  I tried this with Soon today because I felt it was a good next step, and felt like my connection with him could have been better last week (wasn't bad, but could be more consistent).  We warmed up slowly with some serpentines, leg yields, and some turns on the haunches all at the walk before I started riding the square at the walk.  He got it just fine, and once I got him moving well up into the bridle at the trot, we executed a few square turns at the trot as well.  This exercise also makes me have a much better connection and feel of the outside rein and leg in order to move his shoulder over, as opposed to too much inside aids and him ending up over bent and drifting through the outside rein.

Let me just say it was very cool to feel him "get it" and have a few steps in both directions where he really lifted up and moved his shoulders over at the trot!  Little moments like that are extremely fun for me.  We also worked on stretchy canter (after once again getting that right lead on the first try, good boy!).  Overall the goal for this ride was not just the trot square, but also how Soon was working up into the bridle.  I focused on keeping my hands up and steady as I think the last couple rides I was slightly busy with them, which is not normal, but also prevents the horse from consistently seeking the contact.  Bubba really felt like he was pushing well off his hind end and working well over his back.  Any outline or softness issues before were gone, as he was a dressage pro today.  Moved well off my leg, was round, and was very soft in my hand.  Proof that 98% of the issues (however large or small) are caused by the rider.

Overall, a really fantastic feeling flat school.  I'm hoping some of the trot square will come in handy tomorrow when we have a jumping lesson.  I believe it will involve short turns off the rail, which requires more control over the horse's shoulders. I guess we'll see!

Anne Kursinski on Flat Work

Check out this outstanding video of Anne Kursinski demonstrating flat work techniques for the 2013 George H. Morris Horsemastership Training Session (click on 2013 video on demand, scroll down on the right until the video "Day 1 - Anne Kursinski Flat Work" and click on it).

As I've said on this blog before, Anne is an all around great horseman and four-time Olympian.  She's been at the highest levels of show jumping, and understands how to put solid flat work on a horse and why that is necessary.  This Horsemastership program was started a few years ago to bring some of the top young riders together for a week to learn from some of the best in not only riding/training techniques, but horse care and sportsmanship as well.  This flat work piece is a lovely demonstration of practical dressage.

Some key points on the importance of flat work:
- Flat work is a foundation for the horse's rideability
- It's like "going to the gym," and serves the same purpose as yoga, pilates, etc do for people: fitness and flexibility
- It makes them stronger, sounder, more athletic, and responsive
- A horse well schooled on the flat and truly on the aids is much easier to jump
- Leg to hand
- Horse should move off/bend around the inside leg and be on the outside rein
- Always focus on the hind legs and what they're doing, not the position of the head
- Form follows function - be an effective rider, and you will ride well and be pretty at the same time
- Have a passion for learning
- Get inside the horse's head, understand behavior, understand training, and appreciate flat work
- She has ridden with some seriously awesome horsemen
- I share her opinion on draw reins...probably not a "key point" but nice to know.  Draw reins create a false frame and tension.  Leg to hand and focus on the horse's whole body being soft.  Head position will come eventually when the horse is truly engaged and connected through its back.  Draw reins do not accomplish that
- Don't use emotion in training.  Stay calm, stay focused, stay steady.  Keep emotion out of it
- Details, details, details!  Mind even the smallest detail, and the big picture will come together

Dressage fascinates me, much like Anne said it fascinates her.  Flat work should be productive and fun.  I have just as much excitement from a great flat school as I do a good jumping round or day out hunting. This was a real joy to watch and absolutely has a lot to offer anyone.  Check it out!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

What your horse thinks when you dress him up

My horse has clothes, but they're all horse clothes like blankets.  I'm not one to buy hats or other things for him to wear.  Sometimes it's cute, sometimes not so much, but I found a couple of GIFs that probably explain how the horse feels when he's dressed up in a tie-dye sleezy or has holiday wear on his head:






And what the other horses think:


(Ok... I saw those while looking for the raccoon thing and had to come up with a whole separate post because those are hilarious GIFs)

Soonie and the cart

Today Bubba and I took advantage of a 60 degree day (WTF December?) and went out on one of our magical death defying hacks down the road. :)

After he had a week totally off and free of my obsessing, we had a lovely walk with minimal traffic.  If anything, the drivers were actually courteous this time!  I have to acknowledge it when it happens.  We did a couple of trot sets, and even went for a brisk canter down the long stretch toward the middle of the ride.  Soon was fantastic, he was definitely feeling good and was kicking into a whole different gear (but still nothing like what he did on the track, I'm sure), but he came back when I asked.  Immediately afterward we turned around and walked home on the buckle.  I love the fact that he needs absolutely no prep work, and can come off a week vacation, go out in the open and run around and be a complete gentleman about it.  He is amazing.  :)

On the way home we came across a fellow boarder, who was out driving her mare down the road.  Soonie had seen the cart out once before and it went pretty well once he figured out it wasn't a horse eating monster.  So this afternoon he sees them a few hundred feet ahead, and we go from moseying along on the buckle, to a much brisker "LET'S GO CHECK IT OUT, I GOT THIS!" march.  Very eager to have a close up look, which earned him some compliments from the driver when we hung around and chatted for a moment, which he was also very good for.  One thing I haven't really elaborated on is Bubba's brave/bold attitude.  His reaction in the face of something that's questionable or scary is most often to go towards it and examine it.  Very rarely does he spook and leave.  In fact, on the rare occasions he spooks at all, it's usually a quick sideways step, then he turns around to look, and then wants to climb on the scary thing.  It's nice to have a forward thinking horse, especially in situations that are potentially scary for him. 

"Ugh.  She's back."

Long rein walk, about 20 seconds after hand-galloping down the road
"I felt the wind in my face!"

Why I hate night blanket swaps

Because if I go to the barn anytime after 7pm and the barn is already deserted, I always end up walking in on the family of GIANT ASS RACCOONS that eat the cat food just inside of the people door.

My reaction and the raccoons' reactions basically look like this:

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Trust the power beneath you


Sunday flat update

Love my sleepy sweet boy <3
Soonie and I had a relatively long flat school on Saturday (boy worked hard!) with extra canter and trot work.  So today I decided that we'd do a shorter (30 minute) flat school today to keep things light and happy.  Despite working his little butt off yesterday (we had our first canter transition bobble in a long time and had to work through it), he was absolutely fantastic today (as were his canter transitions!).  The footing is in need of a good drag, but we made the best of it today.  He was his usual good self on the flat, and it's so nice to have those "wow" moments (literally said "wow" as I was cantering around because he felt great).  Also nice that he has such a wonderful work ethic and attitude.  His fluffy little ears are always up when he finishes a workout.  He knows I'm happy with him, and he seems very chuffed with himself as well!  Good boy.  :)

I also caught up with the nice lady down the street who offered her property to ride on.  Turns out she has many acres, a pond, a trail, and an apple orchard that are all open to riding.  I will deliver some nice wine to her when the weather allows Soonie and I to make a visit.  Can't wait for the snow to go away so we can take advantage of the lovely offer!  :)



Saturday, December 21, 2013

My Saturday night...

...is sitting on the couch watching reruns of Aachen on tv and sewing the plastic pads back on Soon's ankle boots.

I feel like I'm winning an alternate reality version of Project Runway and Tim Gunn approves.


Thursday, December 19, 2013

How to Train Your Overgrown Horse...err, Dragon



I loved the first "How to Train Your Dragon" movie.  I got dragged to it with the kids, but ended up loving it probably more than the five year olds did.  It's just something about the relationship between Hiccup and Toothless that was very unique and akin to the type of relationship a good horse and rider pair have (heck, I even talk to my horses the same way Hiccup talks to Toothless, lol).  Their flying scenes reminded me so much of the times I'd take some of my great horses out for a gallop.  We flew without wings.  I laughed and yelled with happiness when we hit full stride, I paused and took in a quiet sunset from horseback on top of the hills, and I cried into their necks when I lost valued partners.  Having that special partnership with another species is something that is so incredible and meaningful that words honestly fail to describe it.  Like, it makes me cry thinking about it.

So when the sequel was announced I was thrilled.  The trailer's officially out, and I can't wait to see it!  :)

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Totilas, who?

Eat your heart out, Edward Gal.

Charlotte Du Jardin and Valegro set new freestyle world record

Pretty neat seeing her on "At Home with Carl Hester" on HRTV from 2010, following their Olympic success in 2012, and seeing them continue to dominate on the world stage.  Atta girl Charlotte, and way to go Blueberry!!

Sunset rides and Thoroughbreds, oh my!

Soonie and I have been enjoying some warm weather, and the last two days found us out on the road hacking.  I got to enjoy the sunset from the back of my favorite boy.
A moment I'll remember for a long time

A neighbor a couple doors down from the farm stopped me yesterday on the road.  She knew my name, said that she road at the barn too, and she offered her property for Soon and I to ride on.  I'll follow up (I forgot to ask her name!) and hopefully take advantage of the lovely and very kind offer.  It'd be great to have some nice, quiet space to hack through without worrying about traffic. 

Soonie and I have been working on a lot of lateral work and stretching the last few flat rides.  The barn hosted a clinician last weekend, and I think Soon and I will take part in the next one.  :)



Photo by Anne Gittins (www.chronofhorse.com)
Check out this great article about three-time Olympian Anne Kursinski and her new Thoroughbred hunter, Only One.  I loved this quote:  "I love the Thoroughbreds,” said Kursinski. “They’re just so light and smart and brave. There’s just a difference about them. I love warmbloods too and I’ve had some great warmbloods, though I like them a little hotter and with more blood. But riding Eros [her Australian Thoroughbred and Olympic partner], I just had to sit quietly and point. I never had to push or pull. It was clucking and whoaing. Growin up at Flintridge with Jimmy Williams, we always had horses from the Santa Anita and Hollywood Park racetracks. I grew up on Thoroughbreds.”

 It's great to see a truly great and highly recognizable rider Kursinski promoting Thoroughbreds in the hunter ring (it's also awesome to see her back in the hunters!).  Here is a video of her and Only One winning the handy round at Upperville, and a First Year Green Hunter class at Wellington.  What a nice moving, nice looking, nice jumping horse!  I also just LOVE LOVE LOVE how soft Kursinski rides.  Seeing her on a hunter is beautiful, as is seeing her skill and following hand, and not throwing herself up the neck like so many riders do nowadays.  She is a classic horseman and one I want to emulate.



Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Soon apologizes better than any man could ever hope to apologize

(Because I've had men do some pretty downright obnoxious and stupid shit, and they suck at apologizing even when they don't suck at apologizing)


So Soonie got scolded last night.  I stopped in to do a quick check and pick his feet.  I try to keep the visits short and to the point if he's in and eating so as not to be completely annoying (I hate it when people bother me when I eat!).  He was in his stall munching on his pre-grain pile of hay, and when I went to say goodnight:


...he pinned his ears and took a little nip of my sleeve.  Seriously, teeth barely contacted jacket, it's not like I got mauled.  But I still don't take shit from horses, and they most certainly do not tell me when or where to go.  So I reacted with:


...and inherited his hay rack while he stood in the opposite corner.  Raised voice, stepped into his space, took it over, and made it incredibly clear through my body language that he done f*cked up.  My hay rack now, sorry man.  I moved his feet a little more and then let him sit there to think about it for a minute.  I turned around and gave him some space as I wanted to see if he'd come to me or go for the hay.  When he went for the hay, the process repeated, and I let it soak in again.  And when I finally stepped back, he was at my shoulder like a good boy.  He got the point.  It was his way of saying:


I had to coax him back to his hay because he didn't believe me when I told him to go back to eating, LOL.  I forgave him with a laugh, gave him a kiss goodnight, and went home.

So fast forward to this afternoon when I came out to ride.  Bubba had his feet done, so he was hanging in his stall already.  I greeted him and it was like old Snuggly Soonie from this summer was back.  He hasn't been as snuggly for awhile now because he's outside in the big herd all day, and by the time he gets inside he's all about his hay (and cribbing).  So there's less interest and time when I roll up to be all lovey (but he has time to crib).   But not today!  By the time I got to his stall he was standing by the door with his ears up and looking adorable, and he WOULD. NOT. LEAVE my side the entire time I was in with him.  There was plenty of hay in his rack, but he just stood there patiently waiting, wanting to have his ears and face rubbed.  He hasn't stood there and demanded that in weeks.  It was weird.  Awesome, but weird.

So the ride went well, just another great flat school for the Sooners, and when we got back in the stall it was the same stuff.  Wouldn't eat his hay, would only stand with me.  It was enough for me to look him over for colic signs, seriously.  Convinced he was ok and just sucking up, I went back to my grooming and kind of laughing at how hard he was trying to be affectionate and say that he was sorry.  One of my fellow boarders had a laugh too, he cracks everyone up with his irresistible cuteness.  I try not to project human emotions on to animals because it's stupid, but it really, really was obvious he was being apologetic for yesterday.  It was almost pathetic.  And hilarious.  And probably the cutest thing I have ever experienced.

He went all out and even wanted me to scratch his neck and withers, and got all kinds of turned inside out when I did so.  I love itchy horses, they're fun.  I was shocked when he even finally leaned down and started nuzzling my leg to return the favor.  He did that for a couple weeks when he first showed up, but this is the first time in awhile that he broke out his secret weapon.  Cuteness level:  off the charts.  My arms burned and felt like they were going to fall off because of how hard I was scratching him, but I couldn't stop because he was nuzzling me and it was literally the most painfully adorable wonderful lovey thing in the world. 

And of course his cuteness is just completely not fair and I can't help but just melt:





Being cute and patient and overly polite and napping right before our ride :)

I love him.  <3  LOVE.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Thoroughbreds and the Hunter Ring

"Just as no good horse is a bad color, no good jumper is a bad breed. I have known good jumpers that were Quarter Horses, Palominos, Standardbreds, Appaloosas, Morgans, Arabians, and American Saddlebreds, as well, of course, as all the traditional breeds, and every imaginable kind of mixture. Deep down inside, I think the Thoroughbred is the best equine athlete that has yet evolved. My advice is to judge each horse on its individual merits and welcome an outstanding jumper no matter what sort of pedigree it happens to have."
-William Steinkraus, from Reflections on Riding and Jumping


Bernie Traurig riding Gimlet, courtesy The Wheeler Museum

There is an interesting, if not somewhat complicated and confusing, discussion on the COTH forums about whether the recent emphasis on the Thoroughbred in the hunter/jumper rings was helping or hurting the breed.  The original post opens with the current "Thoroughbred revival" (I'm assuming the marketing of ex-racehorses and cropping up of Thoroughbred symposiums, clinics, and other media features) and whether or not this campaign draws negative attention to the Thoroughbred breed.  Does the extra attention and highlighting put the breed in the spotlight for a positive reason, or does that extra attention make the breed seem even more inadequate for the modern hunter ring?

The discussion evolved into several Thoroughbred related topics:
1.  Why aren't Thoroughbreds as popular as the Warmbloods these days?  Wouldn't just having competitive horses be better than all the extra spotlighting?  And if TBs are as competitive, why all the highlighting and marketing?
2.  What is the purpose of the new Thoroughbred-only breed shows?
3.  Should we be purpose breeding Thoroughbreds to be more competitive in the hunter and jumper ranks at the upper levels?
4.  Bitch bitch bitch bitch bitch. Personal insults, things taken entirely out of context, and bitching.

So I thought I'd take on some of these themes on the comfort of my own blog, where no one but me reads it and I can say whatever I want without 357 other people saying the exact same thing in 458 different ways.

1.  Why aren't Thoroughbreds as popular in the hunter ring as the Warmbloods these days?  Wouldn't just having competitive horses be better than all the extra spotlighting?  And if Thoroughbreds are as competitive, why all the highlighting and marketing?
Basically put, they're not.  Not anymore, at least.  To start, watch this lovely clip where George Morris describes the roots of the American Forward Seat, and describes the role that the American Thoroughbred played in its development (I'd post it as a video, but Blogger is being a little shit about it).  Seriously...the video is GM talking old school riding on Bernie Traurig's YouTube channel.  If you're still reading my rambling and not watching this video, you're wrong!  Anyway, now that you've seen the video, you hopefully have an appreciation for how closely linked the American style of forward (hunter) seat riding is to the American Thoroughbred.  As this lovely Oughton Limited blog on Thoroughbred Hunters notes, “most all of the significant international titles garnered by the United States Equestrian Team from the 1930s right up until the late 1980s were earned on Thoroughbred horses" (Leslie Mangan, USHJA Executive Coordinator).
Thoroughbred hunter, 1972 (The Chronicle of the Horse)

The domestic horse shows up until the late 1980s revolved around the Thoroughbred as the hunter horse, the jumper, and the equitation mount.  Read this great article about a current amateur rider recalling how things were "back in the day," where he rode his Thoroughbred Junior Hunter in the Maclay Finals, which was the norm back then:  Throwback Thursday - When Junior Hunters did Double Duty.  Shows were held on big, wide open fields (hunt courses).  Fences were solid and often upright.  Lines were long and hand galloped (sometimes galloping), not carefully cantered in short, measured distances.  Blood and brilliance were rewarded.  Pace was key.  Hunters went more like a traditional field hunter would in the hunt field chasing hounds.  It was a different era. 

So if the American Hunter Seat developed and thrived domestically and abroad on the back of the American Thoroughbred, why are we instead seeing more European Warmbloods in the American Hunter ring today?  In the 1990's, imported horses started to become popular, and soon it was far more fashionable to be mounted on a big moving, big jumping Warmblood than on a (then) more traditional Thoroughbred.  Horse show organizers realized they could make more money by having additional rings, running more classes/divisions, and attracting more competitors at all different heights.  The wide open galloping fields nearly disappeared, replaced by smaller rings and six-to-eight stride cantering lines.  The modern show hunter became an equine metronome; perfectly consistent canter pace, perfect distances, zero disobedience became the gold standard.  The horse should be slow off the ground.  The show hunter became a highly stylized animal with few practical links to its foxhunting roots.

The modern hunter is not better or worse, it's just different.  A different ideal for an evolved set of judging standards and an evolving sport.

While I always loved the beauty and skill it required to put in an artful ride on a hunter these days, some people consider watching today's hunters like watching paint dry.  As the more brilliant Warmbloods dominated the new show scene, the Thoroughbred began to decline.  It wasn't one single factor that drove the Thoroughbred out of favor - it was a combination of a favorable new type of horse, along with the dramatic changes in the show hunter environment itself.  The Warmbloods tend to be more successful types in the modern show hunter ring.  The show jumping world went through a similar change, with big, wide open courses being replaced by shorter, more technical ones that better suited Warmblood types.  Hard to say which came first though - the horses changing for the course demands, or the course demands changing for the horses?  Probably a little of both.  There are Thoroughbreds competing in the top ranks of both the hunter and jumper disciplines, but they are rare these days compared to 25 years ago.

One poster on the COTH thread made an excellent point that from a business sense, it's easier and often cheaper to purchase an already made competitor from Europe.  Europeans keyed into our hunter needs long ago and can easily produce an animal that is at the very least reasonably competitive off the bat.  While purchase price and import costs are nothing to sneeze at, these horses come with a better guarantee of a sale (and commission), a better guarantee of a happy customer, and a better guarantee of success in the show ring with a shorter wait.  In short, they're a better bet from a money stand point.  Versus the Thoroughbred, which is harder to find with the qualities needed to be truly competitive in the open hunter divisions.  These horses often have to be made from scratch, which can take a lot of time and money (and patience!).  They come with a much bigger risk, and perhaps not as much reward.  It's a business perspective that while bleak for the Thoroughbred, makes sense.

To sum up, by the numbers, the Thoroughbred is not competitive in large numbers in today's modern show hunter world, and often is not super competitive in the upper level jumper ranks either.  Hence why we see a marketing push to get the Thoroughbred "out there."  We see magazine and internet articles about Thoroughbreds competing and winning against the top Warmbloods.  I don't see that as a bad thing.  They used to be king of the ring, but due to changes and evolution of the sport, as well as business factors and consumer preference, have fallen out of favor.  Many people yearn for "the good old days" where the galloping Thoroughbred ruled all three rings.

Now look at Eventing.   The Thoroughbred has long ruled the three-day Eventing world with its speed, agility, stamina, and versatility.  A few years ago the long format was taken out of the top ranks of competition (thus making them glorified horse trials), some believe to make the European Warmbloods more successful in a shorter, less demanding format.  The Thoroughbreds still are highly successful, including many horses taken off the racetrack and eventually finding themselves in the top ranked competitions in the world.  But we do see some of what happened in the hunter ring happening to the Eventers as well, which is one argument for the return of the long format.  The extra emphasis on stamina is what set the Thoroughbred apart.

Now just so you know where I'm coming from, I love Warmbloods, because they are fantastic.  In fact I went through a long stage in my teens/early 20's where all I wanted was a 17+ hand Hanoverian equitation horse.  In the last 12 years I've had some Hanoverians, Oldenburgs, Trakehners, Selle Francais, and Holsteiners (mostly those in the last couple of years), and spent four glorious years riding wonderful Irish Draught and Irish Sport Horses, almost exclusively.  I mostly showed locally and regionally, but had a few stints of USEF A rated shows and even some USEA recognized events just to broaden my horizons. Because it's fun to go around a recognized Training event for your first time out, giggling like an idiot because it's half super fun, half almost-pee-my-pants "WTF am I even doing out here!?" exhilaration.  Eventing kind of kicks every other sport's ass if you can get past the potential near death experience part.  Because you don't know if that white light is God saying "Hey it's the finish line, you're almost home Champ!," or the tunnel vision kicking in because you're not as fit as you think maybe you should have been.


2.  What is the purpose of the new Thoroughbred-only breed shows?
There was some misconception that the new Thoroughbred-only shows were to make the breed more popular at the upper levels of sport.  As was eventually clarified, no, that is not the point at all.  The Retired Racehorse Training Project comes to mind when I think of that effort, as well as all the Thoroughbred horse shows: to showcase the versatility of the breed to every segment of the horse industry.  The purpose isn't to market the Thoroughbred to a top hunter or jumper trainer looking for their next High Performance Hunter or Grand Prix horse (especially when most jumping classes top out at 3' or lower).  The purpose of these breed shows is to appeal to Susie Q, the decent amateur rider who never considered getting a Thoroughbred before.  Or to the teenage rider, whose family can't afford an expensive import.  To the hunter, jumper, event, western, or trail rider.  To anyone and everyone who's willing to come out and see how great the right Thoroughbred can be for them and their riding goals.

These Thoroughbred breed shows, Thoroughbred makeovers and symposiums, clinics, etc are there to get the word out to the entire horse industry that the Thoroughbred has something to offer to everyone.  That there is the right Thoroughbred out there for any type of rider.  The goal is to market the horse and not only give more horses more opportunities for careers/homes now, but to also eventually increase the market value of these animals, thus helping to secure them more in the future.

The Thoroughbred breed shows also serve another purpose.  Not everyone can afford an A-circuit (top tier, nationally rated competitions) budget.  These breed shows offer more accessible competitions at a lower price point.  Owners can still get their horses some valuable showing experience for less money, and enjoy doing so in the company of other Thoroughbred owners and riders.  As someone who can't spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars on showing, I personally look at these Thoroughbred shows with interest, in hopes I can attend some with Soonie.  They sound like fun, friendly, affordable alternatives!  Especially since most seem to offer a broad spectrum of classes, everything from typical hunter/jumper classes to dressage, combined tests, even western and trail competitions.  If these Thoroughbred shows could offers some bigger jumping classes (3-foot ), along with some more traditional hunter classes with hunt courses (space permitting) and galloping like the heyday of the Thoroughbred hunter, I think they would see even greater participation, and Thoroughbred enthusiasts would finally have a truly suitable place for their Thoroughbred hunters, who many not be highly competitive in today's modern show hunter ring.  Seems like a win-win to me!   I would love to try that with Soon one day.  I'd also love to do a hunter derby just for the hell of it, as those seem to be the closest thing to more traditional hunters that we offer today.


3.  Should we be purpose breeding Thoroughbreds to be more competitive in the hunter and jumper ranks at the upper levels?
Triple won the Junior Hunters and state
Medal classes in the snow!  Heart!
Probably, if we want to see them at the top of the sport.  Top European lines typically are bred for certain specialties (dressage, hunters, jumpers), much like in the racing lines of Thoroughbreds have turf specialists, distance or speed, etc.  The problem is the American Thoroughbred itself has changed in the last 20-30 years.  People often note the lack of substance in modern Thoroughbreds.  That the horses we rode so often to victory at home and abroad had more size and bone, more uphill build, and that today's horses seem much more slight.  They seem narrower, lighter boned, more delicate.  That I mostly agree with, as I've seen some pretty dainty Thoroughbreds, but also some Thoroughbreds with great bone and plenty of substance, that could easily be taken for a heavier Warmblood sort.  My 1987 mare, Triple, had very good bone for her 16hh height.  Soon, too, sports good bone for his size, though he is somewhat narrow through the chest.  Even so, he's just not a very big horse, and is incredibly well proportioned and solid.  Hence why he made it through 52 starts with clean legs.

My personal feelings tie everything together.  If we can continue to market and push for Thoroughbreds at all level of competition and all disciplines, and continue to find the odd Thoroughbred (off the track or performance bred) at the top of their discipline, it serves to help the breed.  Many Thoroughbred only shows and symposiums are supported/sponsored by racing industry professionals as a way of promoting their ex-racehorses, and helping them find new careers post racing.  The more the Thoroughbreds get out there and show their potential after racing (or in other discipline in the case of the Thoroughbreds who never raced), the more valuable the breed can be.  Thoroughbred breeders, both racing and performance, need to recognize this.  The general horse public needs to recognize this.  I hope that if race breeders in particular can see that their horses have use and purpose beyond the race track, that the focus will once again return to breeding substance and quality over quantity and speed.  If there can be a fundamental change in the Thoroughbred breeding as a whole, perhaps the breed has a chance at returning to some part of its former glory.  At the very least, we should focus on more substance and quality for the welfare of the horse and the sustainment of the breed itself, whether it becomes the most popular show horse again or not.

There is nothing better in this world than a good Thoroughbred.  I learned to ride and compete on Thoroughbreds.  I learned to love to ride on Thoroughbreds.  I look back on my time riding these more affordable horses, and as an adult realize how incredibly valuable they were not just to my riding career, but to my life.  I wouldn't be the same person without my Thoroughbred horses.  I thought I was lucky to have a horse of a lifetime with Triple, but it looks as if Soon is going to be a horse of a lifetime as well.  I wish every horseman could have that same experience, just once in their lives.  I'm truly blessed to have had it twice, and all thanks to the Thoroughbred.


"The blood runs hot in the Thoroughbred and the courage runs deep. In the best of them, pride is limitless. This is their heritage and they carry it like a banner. What they have, they use."
- C.W. Anderson

Sunday, December 8, 2013

More visual aids

I am such a geek, this stuff is so fun for me to watch:



Very little explanation needed, everything is in the video.  Great stuff.

Soon is such a genius, and visual aids!

Snowy pony...He wasn't sure if he wanted to come in with me today!  :)


Today was a flat school for Soon.  I wanted to give him a nice, light-minded ride after yesterday's more taxing jump school, and get him to stretch and really loosen up (not that he was tight yesterday, this is just a nice follow up).  He was wonderful.  We focused on a lot of bending exercises at the walk to warm up, get him moving off my outside leg, leg yields, etc.  He goes right into stretch work these days.  The first trot used to be about just getting him forward, but now I can ask him from my leg to stretch down across his topline and stretch into the contact.  This is a great warm up, and helps engage his back.

 His canter work was really lovely today.  He's been consistently getting his right lead canter transitions from the first or second attempt.  He's very solid on those now, which is a huge amount of progress from a couple months ago.  He is soft, light in the canter, naturally very round and incredibly well balanced on his own.  During this afternoon's ride he felt wonderfully connected in the canter, going from slower, more compact canter on a 20 meter circle to a slightly lengthened canter down the long side of the arena, back to another 20 meter circle.  Canters in both directions were just a dream.  Seriously, this horse is so balanced, and light, and naturally round in the canter it makes me smile just writing about it!  I'm always giddy when I ride him.  He makes dressage so easy and fun, and if I ever get back into showing, he'll be a great adult equitation horse (in addition to all the horse trials and dressage shows and miscellaneous stuff I'd like to do with him).

We ended once again by coming down out of the left lead canter into a working trot on the shorter rein.  His outline is getting much more consistent when I have the shorter rein and thus require his poll to be higher.  I don't drill him much in the shorter outline because he doesn't really have the muscling yet to sustain it for a full school, so I ask for a couple minutes at a time at all three gaits.  I then asked him to stretch, and he can get so low and deep in his trot stretch that I feel like I have no horse in front of me.  Again, light, balanced, soft, forward, and responsive.  I look at his progress and where he stands in his training, and it's amazing given where he started in Aug.  He rides like such a seasoned sport horse at times it blows my mind.  I admire him for his work ethic, athleticism, and heart. 

I found this (OUSTANDING!!) video on YouTube and had to post it to help illustrate the stretching and engagement of the horse's back that I keep describing with Soon.


I'm a huge believer in classical dressage, and though I'm not a capital-"D" Dressage rider, I use its principles when I'm schooling horses on the flat, as I believe a solid foundation in dressage sets the horse up to be successful in a variety of disciplines.  The lifting of the back and the connection between the hind end and the front end is so key, and very well illustrated and described in the video.  I do this work with Soon every ride.  It makes such a difference - the horse's back coming up is more comfortable to ride, the stretching is a great building block to riding in a shorter/more elevated frame, etc.  Great, great stuff.

I also agree that it takes a long time (year) to put a good topline on a horse, and collection takes longer.  It's not about the horse's face being pulled onto the vertical.  It's not about the head/neck at all - it's a whole body position (hence why I say "outline" instead of "frame," as I often think of frame as a forced head/neck position).  It's about true engagement starting from the hind legs, over across the top of the back (back elevated), freeing the shoulder and down through the neck to the mouth.  True contact and connection starts from back to front, and I'm very proud to say that Soon does this like an expert, and this work is paying off in spades with him (seriously, read every flatwork post I've made and see, and try not to stab yourself in the eye with my gushiness).  He requires zero hand - if I want him to stretch and go on the bit, I put my leg on and keep my hand soft.  :)

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Jump School

Soonie and I jumped this afternoon, after several weeks of not jumping due to scheduling.  He hadn't been ridden since Monday (his back was starting to get rubbed again, and he didn't feel his best on Monday evening), but he felt great today with no excess energy.  Long story short, we did several single fences, one off a short turn on the diagonal, and a couple of lines.  His rhythm was great, which made our distances consistent, and we only had a slight bobble or two - everything else was really lovely.  He's soft, steady, and a happy little jumper.  I love how hard he tries, and he seems to be enjoying his new job.  :)  Love him!!

All this while the two younger barn cats reenacted The Lion King fight scenes amidst our courses (Soon was very focused despite the obvious distraction).  They almost got run over twice.




Oh, and it was four degrees outside when I left.  Very happy to have a (slightly) heated barn and indoor!

He knows to follow me around, sometimes that makes pictures difficult :)

Soonie, all tuckered out from working hard!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Captain's log, day number [screw it, I don't remember]

So Thanksgiving is officially over, which means every day from last Friday until Dec 26 is Almost Christmas Day.  As if the calendar countdown and the incessant 24-hour holiday music radio stations weren't enough to kickstart your Christmas panic, here's a fun GIF to start you in the overcommercialized holiday mood.


"I KNOW HIM!!"

So Soonie was awesome again today, as usual, of course.  We had to navigate around a jumping lesson, but his flatwork was very good today, and I'm so excited about where he is in training.  We got the right lead canter depart, from the walk, on the first try today!  I think that's happened before, I just don't know if I've posted about that yet.  Canter transitions are solid now in both directions, he had great trot both in the stretch and on the contact in a shorter outline.  He just feels so cool, and it's so nice to have a horse with such a great professional attitude, who's always willing to work hard and please.  :)

He was outside again without any rug today, because it was legitimately nice today as well.  After our ride, I threw him out with his turnout sheet on since I figured it was just enough, but after wearing it for about five minutes I realized he was too warm so I yanked it.  He stood by the gate cribbing until he caught my attention to remove it - not sure if that was deliberate or not, but right after I took it off, he hiked up the hill to join his buddies.  So either he waited for me to figure out he didn't need clothes, or he had gotten his cribbing fix for the afternoon (which probably not true, since he went and cribbed on the round bale feeder after I took his sheet off, lol).  Soonie, so smart...me, a little dumb.

He did get trace clipped in October, but he has such a good coat growing in, the clip job is almost completely negated at this point.  Now I have a horse that's two shades of orange and fuzzy all over.



No, it's not.  I'll have to keep a closer eye on which of his three rugs he gets and the corresponding temperatures.  I love warm days this time of year and I'm happy to take them, but this warm-to-freezing-ass-cold temperature swings need to stop already. 


Aww tired Soonie...two different colors and all fur!

On another note, there is an avid fox hunter in our barn, and it looks like I may have the opportunity to hunt Soon this season if I want to pursue that.  I just need to get details on the hunt, the fields, and trailering options.  I honestly expect Soonie to be a star fox hunter, but the first couple of outings can really blow their minds.  Once he understands what he needs to do and how, he settles in and thrives in that (he's shined in everything I've asked him to do thus far!), so I think after a couple of times out in the hunt field, he'll be a champ at that too.  So if there's a hilltopper group or a reasonable second field to go out in, we'll start there for a short time.  I'll have to make an effort to get him out on the road for more hacking (weather permitting) in order to get him legged up (fitter) for that kind of work.

I also need to find someone who's not necessarily staying out too long - my back is toast from a few years working in Virginia hunt country for hunting barns, and a near four-hour day would probably break me.  The one guy is more likely to stay out the whole day - it's hard to ask someone to sponsor you to cap when you know you can't hang with them.  I'd hate to have to make him come in early because my horse and I can't do much more than a solid hour or so.  Something to work on for sure.  I just REALLY, REALLY miss hunting.  I grew up in the equitation and show hunter world, but once I caught the fox hunting bug, it was all over.  It is honestly probably the most fun there is to be had on horseback, and it would be awesome if Soon took to it and enjoyed it too. There is nothing better than hounds in full flight, riding in a big field across breathtaking countryside.  I stand firm that Virginia country can't be beaten, but I can imagine that this midwest country is amazingly fast and fun hunting.  Fingers crossed!

I used to be paid to do this  :)

He does this all the time and it cracks me up